The Legend of Tom Handel

by Charlie Norgaard

Good ol’ Tom Handel. Some know him as just Tom, while others more formally know him as the “GOAT”.

But whether or not you know him closely, or if you are mere acquaintances with him, I can assure you, every student, teacher, and parent cannot resist the classic ‘Tom charm’. With Tom being the glorious face of OES’s outdoor program, I knew that an interview with Tom would benefit the drooping morale of the Upper School. Here lies the story of a legend.

Tom initially grew up in Danville, California near the East Bay side of San Francisco. At the time, Danville was a small rural town, where the wilderness was the city’s playground. With his mom, dad, and younger brother, he spent the majority of his free time taking in the outdoors, spending many of his weekends hiking and camping.

Tom always loved a good challenge. Though he never really got into the more typical high school sports, Tom gravitated towards what he calls “soul sports” — Hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, backcountry skiing, and pretty much anything else that was dangerous and involved the outdoors. Just the thought of skiing down a double black diamond or successfully free climbing a rock face would make Tom’s mouth water.

On Friday nights, when most high schoolers were glued to their couches watching Miami Vice and eating dinner in front of the TV, Tom and his buddies were duct taping lights to their mountain bikes and riding through acres of wilderness, often staying out til’ 3 in the morning.

But after high school, Tom was ready to utilize his profound interest in outdoor experiences. At Cal Poly, where he majored in outdoor and experiential education, Tom found his new desire to build and run challenge courses. From there, Tom took a variety of jobs and apprenticeships post-graduation. He was a man of flexibility, willing to go with the flow wherever his interests took him.

Through his numerous journeys and expeditions, the legendary philosophy of Tom Handel arose: Step outside your comfort zone.

Eventually, as Tom continued to push his personal boundaries and follow his interests, he stumbled upon OES, where he has left his footprint on thousands of students. Here, Tom continues with his glowing positivity and energy. He has taught many students values of courage, commitment, adventure and many other lifelong lessons.

If you are ever feeling down or just need some positivity, go on ahead and take a peek in his office. Just hearing him chirp “Hey Team” or “Awesome-sauce” will light up your day. Out of respect for Tom, I will offer this final quote (Read this in his voice and it’s even more profound and powerful than it already is): “If you never step outside your comfort zone, you will never grow.” If you honor this adage, I can assure that you will find that life is truly an adventure .

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